One of the very first work tasks I was given as a new virtual assistant was to complete some online research in order to brief a graphic designer. This is what my client asked me to do:
- Prepare a shortlist of other successful female online business owners and coaches.
- Visit their Facebook Business Page and take a look at the design of their timeline cover images.
- Put together a document including a copy of each of those cover images, with brief notes about which elements we might consider incorporating into her new design.
- Send the document to her for input, and from there send a request for the new Facebook cover to our graphic designer, along with the selected raw image and logo files.
I can remember thinking two things:
1. “How cool is this? It’s so easy and fun to do research online.”
2. “I can’t believe someone is paying me to do this. Awesome!” 🙂
It also really set the tone for how I would approach client tasks from thereon in, and especially in the early days of freelancing when I didn’t have any past experience or reference points to draw on.
I realized, even if I have never done this before someone else surely has, and the result of their learning and efforts is likely to be visible and accessible online, mostly for free!
That’s when I started to slowly build and organize all kinds of ‘swipe files’ to help me in my work as a virtual assistant. That habit, over time, helped me to produce quality client work with confidence even before I really knew what I was doing.
Have you heard of a swipe file before?
If you’ve been reading online business or marketing blogs for any length of time, you’re likely familiar with the term in reference to copywriting and ‘headline swipe files’ in particular.
But borrowing creative inspiration from others can extend beyond sales copy and headlines to basically any element of online marketing you can imagine. That is, any element you may be called to help a client with.
So if you’re new to freelancing, what types of things could you start to have your radar out for in your online travels?
That’s what I’d love to share with you today: 25 ideas for online marketing elements that you can start compiling into your personal set of swipe files to reference during your client work.
They’ll help you to feel and act like a pro online marketing support person, even before you are one!
We’ll organize them into 3 different types:
- Copy, Graphics & Layout (combined)
Type 1: Copy
1. Blog Post Headlines
Brainstorming and improving upon blog post headlines – both before and after the body of the posts are actually written – is one of the most powerful ways you can really add value to a client’s business, even without the official designation of ‘copywriter’ or ‘content crafter’.
It’s tricky coming up with awesome ideas without prior experience to draw on, so have an inspiration file you can refer back to at any time. You’ll find collections of blog post idea swipe files all over the web, but I’ve found that putting together your own from various sources really gets you thinking about effective headline structures and what works best for different types of businesses and post styles.
2. Email Subject Lines
In an ideal world, every online business might like to have their own copywriter or marketing consultant crafting clickable subject lines and analyzing the open rates for every piece of email marketing they send. But the reality is that in small and medium sized businesses, email subject lines are often an afterthought, put together on the fly by the freelancer formatting the email in the client’s email marketing software.
If you’re going to be writing these for your clients, it’s great to have some creative inspiration to draw on. Subscribe to email newsletters of successful online business owners in all different types of niches, and let the incoming emails start stockpiling in a secondary inbox or email folder, even if you’re not reading them.
Then when it’s time to write a subject line, scan your eye down the inbox picking out angles and ideas that might fit in this case.
3. Email Marketing Copy
When you’re subscribed to a wide variety of email lists, you’ll also have a good indication of the style of copy that’s used in all kinds of email marketing scenarios.
When you see copy that’s particularly engaging or inspiring, or in a format that you’ve never seen before, add a label in Gmail like ‘Copy Swipe File’ or save it to a dedicated inbox folder.
4. Button Text
Creating a landing page or a sign up form for a client and not sure what the button should say? Learn More, Download, Click Here, Register, Watch Now?
I used to be stuck in this situation on many occasions, wondering “Is that an okay thing for a button to say?” Then I realized I could start creating a swipe file for button text ideas too!
I would take a screenshot of the button text, rather than just adding the words to a document or list, so that I could see the context of where that particular button label was being used.
5. Guest Post Bios
This is a task I’ve completed many, many times as a virtual assistant, on behalf of my clients: reworking their standard bio or “About” page text into a paragraph ready to be published with a guest post, or on a virtual or live event page. There are subtle differences each time depending on the context, so it sure helps to have examples ready to reference as you’re making small tweaks.
6. Social Media Snippets
Writing the short bit of text that accompanies a link or image you’re sharing on behalf of a client will start to come naturally as you dive in to learning about your client’s audience and niche. At the outset though, you may feel uncertain as to what you should actually be saying there. To move you beyond ‘stuck’ really quickly, start doing some research in your client’s niche and save screenshots of social media post types and ideas. You can also do this with your client’s own history of social media posts from before you started working with them.
Can you see patterns? What seems to work well? Allow this guide you until you feel confident to run the show.
7. Podcast episode show notes.
Click here for a great example of well-structured podcast show notes on DigitalMarketer.com
Are you an avid podcast listener?
If so, you may not find the task of putting together ‘show notes’ for a client’s podcast too daunting. On the other hand, if you have no clue (yet) what types of things to include in this special type of content, now’s the time to start bookmarking some great examples that you could model on behalf of your client.
8. ‘About’ Pages
Click here for a great example of a benefit-focused About page on Pat Flynn’s FoodTruckr.com
The ‘About’ page is one of the most important pieces of copy on a business website. It’s important to not only describe what the business does and who is behind it, but also how that specifically relates to the reader who has landed there looking to improve their life in some way.
If you’re working with entrepreneurs relatively new to online business, you can add massive value by having some fresh ideas up your sleeve to boost the effectiveness of their ‘About’ page.
Type 2: Copy, Graphics and Layout
9. Thank You Pages
You’re going to find it really helpful once you’ve built up a small collection of ‘Thank You page’ screenshots that you can reference, because when you’re first getting started working online, this can be an area where you might feel a bit lost.
What should I write on the Thank You page for my client?
Should I ask the client for all the information or can I be proactive in creating the page and then just ask for their review?
Should the promised free digital download be available on the Thank YOu page, or do I need to send subscribers back to their inbox to click on a confirmation link first?
There are all kinds of variables for all different scenarios. As you start to build your swipe file of these pages, the haze will turn into clarity and you’ll have a fair idea of what type of page inclusions and layout might work best for the scenario at hand.
10. Sales Pages
Click here for a great example of a clear and engaging sales page on NathanBarry.com
Full long-form sales pages are usually the most time-intensive and involved type of landing page project you’ll work on.
Your new client may already have a preferred style and layout for sales pages they’ve used in the past, or, you might be creating their very first sales page for the first paid offering they’re making available to their online audience.
When you see a sales page you find aesthetically pleasing and engaging, you can take a full page screenshot, or even just save the URL link to a Google Doc you can refer back to later. Sometimes, sales pages don’t stick around live on the internet in between launches, so for that reason, I’ll often use this Chrome browser extension called Full Page Screen Capture to save a copy of the whole thing.
11. Expression of Interest Pages
Click here for a great example of a stunningly designed expression-of-interest page at ParadisePack.com
An expression-of-interest page, sometimes also referred to as ‘launching soon’ or ‘waitlist’ page, is a landing page where your client’s audience can subscribe with their name and email to indicate they’d like to hear more about a particular product, program or service your client will be offering in the future. People may land on the page after a launch period has closed, or, in the lead up to the product becoming available for the very first time.
Again, like Thank You pages, it’s sometimes not always obvious what an expression-of-interest page should actually say, until you’ve been working as an online marketing support freelancer for some time. Now that you know that this is a particular type of landing page a client may require, you can have your radar out for applicable examples to draw on.
12. Lead Magnet Optin Pages
Click here for this great example of a lead magnet optin page on IWillTeachYouToBeRich.com
The awesome thing about any type of landing page is that… there are no rules.
You might have a whole lot of copy, or a simple one line benefit. You might have a simple page of predominantly text, or large full screen width hero images. The more examples you review, the clearer you’ll become on what style resonates for you personally, and also what seems to work well for different types of businesses and lead magnet offers.
13. Webinar Registration Pages
Click here for this great example of a webinar registration page on SproutSocial.com
Every webinar platform has it’s own unique registration page template designs, as well as potential tools it might integrate with. For example, GoToWebinar and WebinarJam both have their own ‘in-house’ registration pages, but you can also customize a template inside Leadpages instead, to then integrate with either of those webinar platforms.
So when you see a webinar registration page you really like, you can click through to register (even if you don’t actually plan to attend) and see what information you can glean from the Thank You page and the confirmation email you receive. That is, which webinar platform are they using? That will start to form a clear picture in your mind of what options you’ve got available to you, depending on the specific webinar platform your current or future clients are using.
You can even label the full page screenshots with a tag in Evernote (use the Evernote Web Clipper for this) to indicate which webinar system was sitting behind that particular registration page example.
14. eCommerce Order Forms
Most eCommerce systems will give you a nice clean looking order form straight ‘out of the box,’ as soon as you’ve entered a few basic details about the product name and pricing and perhaps an image. But, there are many, many things you can do to improve upon an order form in terms of it’s visual appeal and clarity.
Whenever I see a great looking sales page, I always click on the order button to take a sticky-beak at their order form. If it’s impressive, I take a screenshot as inspiration to send briefing notes to our developer or designer when working on client order forms.
Order forms are often an area where small and medium sized online business won’t invest as much in freelance support services and will be happy to go with the default layout, but once you’re working with established and profitable businesses, you’ll find the order form customization might be just as important as the sales page itself.
15. Ebook Designs
Click here to download a copy of a cleanly designed and helpful free ebook on SupportOps.com
Unless you’re a graphic designer, I have found that it’s very, very tricky to just try describing the look and feel you’re going after for a client’s new ebook design. Much, much easier to show and tell.
I have a Dropbox folder labelled “Ebook Designs” where I save any free or paid ebook I come across that is visually striking and a pleasure to read. I scan through it to see what types of design elements seem to contribute to the overall appeal of the design, in hopes of improving my ‘designer speak’ gradually over time. Then when it comes time to delegate a project to our designer, I’ve got multiple styles and elements I can point to that seem to fit with the client’s desired style.
16. Email Newsletters
When you start working with a client who has already been sending a regular weekly newsletter, your job is easy. All you need to do is to log into their email marketing system and ‘clone’ or ‘replicate’ their most recently sent newsletter as your template base to work from.
But what if your client wants help with upgrading their current format, or with creating a brand new newsletter layout from scratch? Bring on the swipe file!
In the inbox you use to subscribe to a wide range of industry newsletters, whenever you see a format that you particular like, label it in Gmail, or save it into a folder, with something like “Newsletter Inspiration,” so that you can come back to those later.
17. Facebook Ads
Sometimes your client may decide to contract a paid traffic or Facebook ads specialist, but if you know how to put an ad together yourself, they’d be just happy to hand you, their dedicated support person, the budget instead.
When you see posts on Facebook that include the ‘Sponsored’ label just under the business name, investigate the post for potential swipe file material and screenshot it if you think you could model it in future client work.
I collected and reviewed about 50 examples of great Facebook ads in the process of bringing on board that new service for clients when the demand for it started rising a couple of years back.
18. Popup Optin Forms
Click here to take a peek at good looking popup optin form on RubyandSass.com
You know when you navigate to a new website and a form pops up in the middle of the screen, prompting you to subscribe? Those are referred to as popup optin forms (just in case you’re not already familiar with the lingo!) and one of the key reasons online business owners choose to use them is… they work!
So whether you love them, hate them or you’re somewhat indifferent, know that as an online marketing freelancer it will often be your job to set them up.
When you see a good looking popup, screenshot it for your swipe files and if you can, try to figure out which popup tool they may have built it on.
Two of the most popular are SumoMe and OptinMonster, but there are many more. When you’re new to these and you don’t personally have coding skills, let clients know you can customize a preset template inside a tool like this, and then for custom design and coding, get acquainted with a web designer who can support you.
19. Giveaway Landing Pages
Click here for a great example of a Rafflecopter giveaway (now closed) on IAmAileen.com
Running a giveaway is one of the tactics your client may use for growing their list of email subscribers. There are so many ways to set this up, and you’ll start to get an idea of the options available when you land on giveaway pages and then save them to your swipe file collection. Oftentimes you’ll see reference on the giveaway page to the particular software tool that the page or widget has been built with.
Some of the popular ones to look out for:
- The KingSumo Giveaways WordPress plugin by AppSumo (Looks super sleek! This tool is extremely popular right now.)
- ShortStack giveaway templates which can be published on Facebook or on an independent web page.
- A customized Leadpages ‘Enter-to-Win’ contest page.
- A Rafflecopter giveaway widget embedded in a WordPress Post or Page.
Type 3: Graphics
20. Blog Post Images
Whether you plan to design blog post images for clients yourself, or collaborate with a designer to put them together on your behalf, a collection of examples to see all the possibilities out there will save you a ton of time.
You’ll get to know which fonts pair well together, what types of images look great, and how to get a cohesive look with each unique image.
21. Social Media Graphics
The square social media graphics which include a quote/snippet with an image or pattern are still around, though not as crazy popular as they were say a year or two ago. You might have noticed that the quality has generally risen overall in recent times, and if someone’s going to hit you with a motivational Facebook quote graphic, the design and content is usually at a pretty high standard. With flooded social media feeds, it’s just not worth the time otherwise!
When you see a design that’s exceptional, store it away in a Dropbox folder to come back to when your new client orders one. That will give you a really great idea of the different styles you can draw on, whether you’re creating it yourself or delegating to a graphic desigern.
Digital marketing agency Traffika produce some of my all time favorite social media graphic designs.
22. Email Headers
What do you do when your client asks you: “Do you think we need a graphic across the top of this email?”
You draw on your pre-saved swipe file inspiration of course!
Even if you’re brand new to working online, you’ve likely noticed how some email newsletters come through to you with a great big ol’ graphic at the top, many have a slim rectangular header across the top (like the Nomadic Matt example above), and many go straight into the body of the text with no graphic at all.
23. Sidebar Banners
If your client’s blog format includes a right-hand sidebar, you may be called to create or update graphic banners to be placed there, that will provide blog readers with opportunities to engage further with your client.
Whenever I see a polished looking sidebar banner, in a range of different design styles, I save then to a swipe file folder in Dropbox simply labelled ‘Banners.’ (Any kind of banner positioned in any type of website location also goes in there too.)
24. Call to Action Banners on Blog Posts
Have you seen those rectangular clickable images sitting either midway down or at the very bottom of a blog post? They’re designed to encourage readers to take a next step in engaging with that business, if they’re finding value and benefit in the content that they’re reading.
A client may ask you to create one of these using a free tool like Canva, or they may ask you to connect with their graphic designer to brief them on what elements are required for a new graphic. You can use a swipe file to help with either task.
25. Logos and Wordmarks
As an online marketing support person with regular, ongoing clients, you won’t be constantly involved with new logo creation like you would be if you were a web designer or graphic designer specifically. But it will come up from time to time when you’re supporting a client with a new website or redesign, or when your client is creating unique logos or wordmarks for their new product, program, event or service.
The goal here isn’t to find things to imitate, but rather, to get an understanding of the various icon and font combinations available to achieve a modern look.
Swipe File Tools and Storage
When you’re collecting these examples, you can choose the tool that seems most helpful for the type of swipe file – one that you personally find easy and fast to use and where you’ll know you can easily find what you’re looking for later.
One of my favorite tools for both storage and fast recall is the Evernote Web Clipper because you’ve got easy access to the tool in your browser, you can save either full pages or portions of pages, and my favorite feature, you can add tags to make the saved item fast to pull up. I usually use one tag to say what type of web element it is (eg. ‘webinar’) and another tag to indicate the name of the business or person that created it (eg. ‘amyporterfield’).
For email copy, layout and subject lines, I have a secondary inbox where I let everything accumulate unlabelled just to dig into later. For a small selection of email lists I’m subscribed to with my primary Google Apps work email address, I add a Gmail label to anything swipe-file-worthy before archiving it in the inbox.
Okay, so are you ready to go on an online treasure hunt? This is one fun and profitable hobby to have as you build your freelance career!